Archive for August, 2017

“Bye-Bye, Bannon”

August 20, 2017

sean-hannity-91

 

“The Trump presidency that we fought for and won, is over.” –

Former White House Chief Strategist Stephen “The Grim Reaper” Bannon — upon being relieved last week of further executive responsibilities (fired).

What this means is anyone’s guess, probably including Bannon and definitely D.J. Trump, left spinning his usual truth — fast and furious fiction – a President abandoned by many and despised by most.

But so much for all that.

Let’s dwell on something more enjoyable — like an asparagus pizza, a bowl of hot squirrel stew or an air hammer root canal.

The Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, “The Music Man” featured 76 trombones, and in a few weeks I turn 76 years of age. So does my birth brother, Bernie Sanders. We both came to earth (I like the sound of that) on September 8, 1941. He appeared in Brooklyn, New York. I landed upstate in Syracuse. That same day German forces began a blockade of Leningrad and exterminated the entire Jewish community of Meretsch, Lithuania. It was in the first hours of our life. This much older time offers sparse comfort.

A great national malaise continues unabated. A number of my dearest pals for decades have become bitter old white guys. Others join me in concerned astonishment that these mutual acquaintances have become oblivious to what seems obvious. It is discontentment born of disconnection. They are mentally living off the grid – 21st Century Ted Kaczynskis – hermetically secure in a mind cabin of self-restricted consciousness — sealed away from all but the balm of ever more righteous right wing radicalism.

Crazy is contagious. But God-fearing Republicans may yet save us all. They do know how.

Hannity insanity is almost finished running its brilliantly manipulative multi-million dollar course.

Fifteen years ago I spent one evening sharing a few serious adult beverages with Sean and his former partner, the late Alan Colmes. It was a Client Party at The Henry Hotel in Dearborn, Michigan.  I was with Comcast at the time. We had nationally televised a live broadcast of the old “Hannity and Colmes” program from the Grand Ballroom. Guests included Ollie North and G. Gordon Liddy. It was quite a night.

Sean had just released his first book. “Let Freedom Ring – Winning the War of Liberty Over Liberalism.” He was being treated like a Rock Star, patiently signing dozens upon dozens of copies for aging, devoted followers – some actually weeping in his presence. He finally ran out of books. Alan and I stood aside and marveled.  He and Sean had started with successful radio careers in an industry where everyone used to know everyone else. We shared many memories.

Far from being uncomfortable with Sean’s sudden surge in popularity, Alan appeared genuinely proud of his long time friend and enjoyed basking in the light of advantageous association. Colmes exclaimed, ”He knows how to promote – he really understands marketing. Look at the ratings!” I found Sean to be extraordinarily charming and naturally charismatic. He provides pure performance and delivers what works.

That “Independence Day” song from 1994 by Martina McBride he often uses as a program theme? About “letting the white dove sing” and “letting freedom ring?” It has nothing to do with American patriotism. It’s about an abused housewife who sets her drunken husband on fire. A happy ending? Their eight year-old daughter is sent to a “county home.” It’s a country tune. Sean never plays that part of the record.

Your uncle with the crumpled red Trump hat that smells like Bud Light should keep that in mind.

 

 

 

 

“Forty Years Gone”

August 13, 2017

Elvispresleydebutalbum

It was the autumn of 1956.

Barbara was a 14 year-old honor student, Girl Scout Award Winner and founding member of our St. Joseph’s Catholic Youth Organization in Syracuse when she carved 5 letters onto her lower left arm — “E-L-V-I-S.”

None of us boys were a bit surprised. Elvis was that cool.

The nuns were shocked and alarmed. It was further confirmation of what Father Shannon has assured them. Elvis Presley was “an occasion of sin.” Father would know. He heard Confessions. “Bless me, Father, for I have rocked.”

 It was forty years ago this week (August 16. 1977) that Elvis died at the age of 42. Last year his estate earned an estimated $27 million dollars. It’s as though he never “left the building” at all.

When I first heard “Heartbreak Hotel” on the radio in February of ‘56, I thought it was by Mahalia Jackson. Ms. Jackson was a black American gospel singer with a powerful contralto voice, not a skinny “hillbilly kid” of 21 — a dirt-poor truck driver originally from the backwater town of Tupelo, Mississippi – population 21,000.

Elvis and his family moved to Memphis when he turned 13. Sam Phillips, owner of Sun Records at 706 Union Avenue, always told friends if he could “find a white man who had the Negro sound and the Negro feel, (he) could make a billion dollars.” Sam sounded cynical at best, racist at worst. He was neither.

When Elvis Presley wandered into Sam’s little Sun Studio to record a song for his mother’s birthday, Phillips found his “white man.” Then a few more impoverished, unknown, wild, white Southern boys crossed the Sun doorway including Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Roy Orbison. Imagine!

When Eileen and I finally visited Sun Studio, I was amazed to see how tiny it was — not much bigger than a large family garage. We also spent time at Graceland, now located in a fairly sketchy part of Memphis. The tour ended at Elvis’ grave, where he quietly rests along with his parents and twin brother, Jesse Garon Presley, who was stillborn.

We had finally seen Elvis in person on New Year’s Eve of 1975 along with 62,000 others at Pontiac, Michigan’s Silverdome Stadium, now 176 acres of rubble and ruin just north of Detroit on I-75.

It turned out to be the highest attendance number of his career, ushering in America’s Bicentennial Year with a 25 song set list, opening with the twelve bar classic, “C.C. Ryder.” His voice was magnificent, but there was a lot more Elvis by then. He split his white jump suit pants right down the middle at the end of, “All Shook Up.” But he wasn’t, casually strolling off stage and emerging a few minutes later freshly attired in gold. During the interim his band played on, horns wailing away like Judgment Day. It was seamless — unlike those pants.

I happened to be at the radio station when our red UPI Bulletin Light started flashing in the newsroom. It was an early Tuesday evening. Elvis DEAD? I quickly found a copy of “That’s All Right” in our WTAC library; the first song Elvis ever had played on the radio.

One of my favorite Elvis songs is the fairly obscure Country ballad, “Old Shep”, recorded by the legendary Red Foley in 1935, the year Elvis was born. It offers a heart-rending close:

“If dog’s have a heaven, there’s one thing for sure

Old Shep has a wonderful home.”

 I like to think he does.

With Elvis — forty years gone.

 

 

 

 

“Summertime Blues”

August 6, 2017

Vonnegut Smile

    Kurt Vonnegut (1922 – 2007)

“Sometimes I wonder what I’m a-gonna do —
But there ain’t no cure for the summertime blues.” –

First recorded by the late Eddie Cochran in 1958, the song gained further fame performed by such notables as The Beach Boys (1962), Blue Cheer (1968) and The Who (1970).

Summertime Blues” is seminal early Rock & Roll — inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999 – ranked 73rd in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of all time – and officially listed in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame among critical contributions that indelibly shaped contemporary American music.

Today is August 10th – the 222nd day of 2017.

This time every year I encounter my own “Summertime Blues” as days get shorter, nights get cooler and the shimmer of summer gives way to the colors of fall and beyond. Another legendary Rock & Roller, Bob Seger, properly nailed it when he poignantly observed, “Strange how the night moves with autumn closing in” – wistfully sharing nostalgic adult memories of faded adolescent love.

Our grandkiddies in Tennessee have already returned to school. In Madera County, we’ll see those yellow buses back on the road next week with Yosemite High students in class again on the 17th. Let’s once more particularly be on watch for excited little ones playfully energized in roadside wait.

The wheel of the seasons turns with increasing speed as our lives race on, hurling toward the finish line with relentless subconscious impatience, the promise of a new beginning impressed or implied by every major world religion since time, itself, began.

What appears like an eternal summer through the eyes of childhood now seems to flash in a day, then dashes away.

In my own reflections generated by the bittersweet departure of summer, I find myself facing the choice of being frightened – or enlightened.

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. remains a personal hero of mine.

Mr. Vonnegut was captured by German troops near the end of World War Two and held as a prisoner-of-war in a deep cellar located below “Schlachthof Fünf” in Dresden. This ironically saved and changed his life forever when British and American forces firebombed the city on February 13, 1945, reducing the “Florence of the Elbe” to rubble and ruin and killing an estimated 135,000 Germans in the process.

Returning to civilian life after formal German surrender only ten weeks later, Vonnegut went on to eventually write the semi-autobiographical “Slaughterhouse-Five” – “The Children’s Crusade – a Duty Dance with Death.” Published in 1969 (the year of Woodstock) and described at the time as a “satirical novel”, the book quickly established Vonnegut as one of the most brilliant, if not controversial, writers of his generation.

One of his most profound works was “Breakfast of Champions”, published in 1975. In Vonnegut’s own words, it tells the story of “two lonesome, skinny, fairly old white men on a planet which was dying fast.”

From such a somber introduction, a number of final conclusions are brilliantly inspirational. Particularly coming to mind is this brief passage discussing mankind as a self-evident example of biological machinery, but adding an illuminating introspective into human consciousness, also referenced in certain theological circles as the “soul.”

“His situation, insofar as he was a machine, was complex, tragic and laughable. But the sacred part of him, his awareness, remained an unwavering band of light. At the core of each person who reads this book is a band of unwavering light.”

And at the core of those who read this column, too.

A band of unwavering sacred light – as autumn closes in.

And the night moves.